President Trumpâ€™s last-minute about-face on the size ofÂ stimulus checksÂ for most Americans to help deal with the economic harm caused by the coronavirus pandemic has turned Washington upside down only days before a new Congress is sworn in.Â
Trumpâ€™s negotiators had agreed to $600 per person in stimulus checks and had gotten that measure through both the Democratic-controlled House and the Republican-controlled Senate before Christmas. The bill the payments were wrapped into was a typically flawed mixture of needed spending and slabs of Jimmy Dean-sized pork.Â
But Trumpâ€™s White House had itself requested much of the pork â€” including the foreign aid heâ€™s now railing against â€” and never called for $2,000 per person checks until the bill had passed both houses of Congress.
But now suddenly the president says itâ€™s time to add $350 billion to the deficit and is teaming up with Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., to fight for the extra spending.
Politically, the presidentâ€™s move has created a nightmare for his fellow Republicans.
Trump tweeted Tuesday: “Unless Republicans have a death wish, and it is also the right thing to do, they must approve the $2000 payments ASAP. $600 IS NOT ENOUGH!”
The president may think he is teaching Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and other Republicans a lesson for not supporting him enough in challenging the November election results. But Trump is really damaging the chances that Republicans can hold onto two U.S. Senate seats in Georgia in Tuesdayâ€™s runoff elections.
If Democrats Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock win those two seats, the Senate will be equally divided between Democrats and Republicans, with 50 votes each. As vice president, Kamala Harris will cast a tie-breaking vote to give Democrats the narrowest of majorities.
If Democrats capture control of the Senate, you can bet they will endlessly investigate Trump.
Georgia Republican Sens. David Perdue (running against Ossoff) and Kelly Loeffler (running against Warnock) now say they back ballooning the deficit with the $2,000 checks to most Americans â€” but just a week ago they opposed such a move.
Three out of four House Republicans voted against the $2,000 checks on Monday. But enough Republicans joined with all but two House Democrats and two independents to approve the boost in payments, enabling it to pass on a 275-to-134 vote. The measure neededÂ 272 votes to pass under suspension of House rules. Â
With Republicans split on whether to support or oppose the $2,000 payments, the GOP now appears divided and confused just days before the Georgia runoffs, when it should be united and principled to win the crucial elections.
Senate Majority Leader McConnell has responded to this mess by buying time.
In addition to his $2,000 check proposal, Trump has made additional demands on Congress. McConnell says Trump’s demands regarding $2,000 checks, repealing liability protections enjoyed by social media platforms, and investigating voter fraud are “linked together” and the Senate will start to debate them this week.
If all those Trump ideas are packaged into one bill, Democrats will complain that the final product is a poison pill they canâ€™t swallow.
And if this bill combining three separate issues is passed in the Senate, thereâ€™s no way a compromise with the Houseâ€™s version could be agreed to before this Congress turns into a pumpkin on Sunday.Â At that point, members of the new Congress elected in November take office and will have to start from scratch to come up with new legislation. Â
The irony is that most Republicans and many Democrats know that tossing free money out of a helicopter is a terrible way to help the economy or even individual families.Â
Stephen Moore, an economist who helped design President Trumpâ€™s tax cuts, says: “Are Republicans going to be the party that give us a backdoor Universal Basic Income, i.e. free money for every American? Thatâ€™s an idea that was laughed off the stage, literally, in the Democratic debates earlier this year.”
Moore argues that the best way to help people is to prudently allow the economy in lockdown states to reopen and get people back to work.
On the left, both economistÂ Larry Summers, a former top aide to President Obama, and many progressive policy experts oppose the $2,000 payments, saying it would be better to spend a smaller amount of money on more targeted aid that didnâ€™t go to a lot of families who donâ€™t need it.Â
But common sense is in short supply in Washington right now. The entire town is gripped by a political fever in which both sides are desperate to avoid bad political optics before the crucial Georgia elections.Â
The late President Calvin Coolidge was a man of few words but those he uttered were often profound. He once observed: “It is much more important to kill bad bills than to pass good ones.”
Hereâ€™s hoping that Mitch McConnell can find a way to keep the Frankenstein monster of $2,000 checks constructed by the odd couple of Bernie Sanders and President Trump from springing to life. What Congress has already passed is bad enough without making it worse.